The UK is currently in the grips of the largest outbreak of avian flu ever seen in this country. As a result, since 3 November 2021, all birds (whether commercial or individually owned) have been constrained to life inside barns due to the Government imposing an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone across Great Britain.
Unable to experience any time outdoors, formerly free-range birds aren’t existing as such.
This week, supermarkets across the country will see ‘barn eggs’ replace the formally free-range products.
“For some, the term 'barn eggs’ may conjure up unrealistic images of improved welfare for hens.
“But the reality is still bleak. Whilst a more attractive term than 'caged' and without the close confines of bars, the emergence of 'barn eggs' has seen no improvements to hens' welfare.
“FOUR PAWS remains concerned about the ongoing animal welfare issues for animals forced to stay within the same four-walls 24-hours a day.”
Sonul Badiani-Hamment, UK Country Director at FOUR PAWS UK
It has been widely recognised and accepted that improvements in all areas of animal husbandry play a vital role in halting the spread of zoonotic diseases.
But what else can be done to fight infection and ensure higher animal welfare standards?
Regular, thorough cleaning and disinfection routines of all areas
Fewer birds living together
More space, daylight and stimulation to encourage activity and natural behaviours to be expressed
Incorporating winter gardens to barns to offer additional outdoor space that is safe to be used during an outbreak of avian flu, as well as the much-needed fresh air and exposure to sunshine chickens need
Ensuring a high animal welfare standard for farm birds is the ideal way to fight infection, with fit and non-stressed animals significantly less susceptible to diseases.
The Agriculture Act, passed in November 2020 following Brexit, presented a legislative framework for a new subsidy regime in England, listing ‘public goods’ for which subsidies may be paid.
Following this, Defra published an updated plan, The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024, which set out plans for a range of schemes, including initiatives to increase biodiversity, restore landscapes and promote animal welfare.
Central to the new regime is the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), which is due to be implemented in 2023. It is critical that these schemes support measures and incentives for animal welfare.
If we do this, not only will we reduce the occurrence of zoonotic disease outbreaks, but also the welfare of farm animals will be protected.